Poop on a Platter

by Justin Sevakis,

I've been so busy this week (and possibly getting sick) that I've just had no time to do anything fun that's worth talking about, so let's just get this party started.

Michael asks:

The Japanese approved the 4kids One Piece cast, script, and edits. So, what went wrong with 4kids that they lost the license (other than Funi acquiring it)? If Toei were upset with how 4kids was treating One Piece, I think yanking it from 4kids would seem hypocritical because there were other edited anime shows on American TV before 4kids had One Piece. Butchering an anime title to make it more kid-friendly on American TV has been going since the 60s.

4kids is a company anime fans never stop loving to hate, even though the One Piece "incident" happened almost a decade ago, uncut and uncensored One Piece has been available legally for years through Funimation, and 4Kids itself (which emerged from bankruptcy last year and rechristened itself "4Licensing Corporation", seemingly having nothing to do with kids' entertainment) hasn't touched an anime property in a long while.

Fans may have hated what 4Kids did to One Piece (and to a far lesser extent, the other shows in its canon), but as Michael pointed out, Toei Animation was always hands-on, approving the changes they were making, the casting decisions, and everything else they were doing. The fact of the matter is, they were trying to fit a square peg in a round hole: One Piece is a show with boozin', fairly substantial violence, boob jokes, guns, and themes that would be considered adult-oriented in America. You simply cannot air any of that on American kids' television. You cannot. It is not allowed. No TV network will do it, for fear of FCC crackdown, parental backlash, and who knows what else.

It was a business decision to try to adapt One Piece for American television, because that meant that all the huge commercial potential of the show could be explored in the biggest media market in the world. Millions of dollars were being chased, and when that much money is potentially up for grabs, very few companies care very much about maintaining the artistic integrity of a cartoon. And actually, very few companies care about that anyway. (The "normal" American anime companies, as they are now, are a giant anomaly as far as media publishers go.)

So they did what they could within the pretty awful limitations they had to work with, trying to appeal to the market they HAD to appeal to in order to have a massive, mainstream, Yu-Gi-Oh!-sized hit. The resulting show, aside from not adhering to its origins, just plain sucked. They had to change too much, and the story just didn't hold together anymore, and audiences rejected it.

We'll likely never know the fine details of how the arrangement between Toei and 4Kids ended, but it was likely not a straightforward licensing deal to begin with: the companies were partnered to bring the show to American audiences, and when that venture didn't work, they dissolved the partnership. It's possible some money changed hands or debts were forgiven, but the end of the story is, there was a mutual parting of ways, Toei got back the rights, and then Funimation picked up the show.

And aren't ya glad?

Adam asks (though I rewrote his question a tad):

In your column you have given estimated figures for anime licensing and dubbing, what would it take to get the rights to remake a manga or anime in another medium, like live action? Many manga stories already have live action j-drama or movies (Uzumaki, for example), so if one wanted to do an American remake, would they talk to the producers of the adaptation, or the original creator?

It's all over the place. You could probably get remake rights to an indie, or old and forgotten manga series for only a few thousand bucks, if you knew who to talk to, or it could cost north of a Million for a big mainstream property. There are agencies in Japan that act as corporate matchmakers, to help facilitate making deals like this.

Remake rights (or "derivative works") are a tough thing to negotiate because Western entertainment companies require that the original author more or less completely give up control over the final product -- handing over the keys to their creation, if you will. This is the opposite of how things work in Japan, where the original creator (gensakusha) or their agent get to sign off on a lot of things. The way the Western entertainment world works, that would be utterly unworkable (and American entertainment professionals marvel over how anything gets done at all under the Japanese system).

The thing is, many Japanese creators -- successful or otherwise -- are simply not willing to give up that much control over their work. They used to be much more willing to take a chance on that (very few properties that get licensed for remake ever actually get remade, and the artist gets to keep the money regardless). But then a very high-profile Hollywood adaptation of a very famous manga series came out, and was just such a giant turd that everyone with a grain of artistic integrity in them thought, "oh GOD, I don't care how much you pay me, I can't let that happen to my baby!"

Any guesses as to what movie that was? I'll wait.

Yeah, so nowadays the challenge is getting the original creator to part with their rights at any price. And since anime and manga as a whole aren't quite in the spotlight as much as they once were, Hollywood isn't doing quite so many remake deals. But there are still agencies out there willing to make the connections, and studios willing to take a meeting and look into the matter. It's just not happening nearly as often these days as it was in years past.

As far as what happens when there's already a live action production, that all depends on the contract for that first adaptation: did the producer buy the exclusive right to any and all filmed adaptations of the original work in any country, or did they simply get the rights to make the one film? In some cases, you could talk to either the producer of the first adaptation OR the original creator, because they BOTH have the right to sell remakes.

Entertainment law is complicated, isn't it? Sure am glad I paid attention to my law class in film school. Everyone else just slept through it. I'd still always hire a lawyer for this stuff, though, 'cause it's a nightmare.

Michael asks:

A small number of Japanese Blu-Ray releases have English subtitles on them -- sometimes for small shows, sometimes big ones.. My question is, why don't more titles have them? I know a few people who are willing to import shows faster even though Japanese pricing is much more expensive, to own the show right away, or in case their is a chance of it not being licensed. Is it even economically viable to include English subtitles so that a few more units may be sold? Or is it so cheap to do, they aren't losing their shirt by taking the risk?

With Crunchyroll or whoever simulcasting nearly every anime series in Japan, timed subtitle scripts exist for pretty much every new anime being made. So why doesn't Japan just put those on the DVDs as they put them out? A few companies do here and there, but it's hardly a regular practice. Why don't they?

Because it's a pain, that's why not.

Sure, there's a chance a DVD might sell a handful of additional copies to foreigners, but Blu-ray subtitles are a headache to produce. Most of the people working on them don't know English well enough to be able to proof-read the scripts, or make sure everything is synchronized perfectly. Subtitles made for streaming often don't follow the strict rules that Blu-ray subtitles have to follow. And there's always the nagging suspicion that if they put English on their discs, American publishers would be less interested in buying the rights (which is farfetched, but possible).

So, that's a lot of additional labor and time to put in for something that the domestic Japanese audience doesn't want or need, would only lead to a handful of additional sales, and might piss off some people in another part of the production committee. And so, most Japanese DVDs and Blu-rays remain un-subtitled, and therefore useless to the vast majority of us who don't speak Japanese fluently.

And that's all for this week! Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!)

Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap, and check out his bi-weekly column on obscure old stuff, Pile of Shame.

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